Northern Iowa (5-5) at Virginia (7-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 21, 4 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: John Paul Jones Arena (14,593) -- Charlottesville, Virginia. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: UNI 3-0, UVA 4-2. Away Record: UNI 0-3, UVA 0-1. Neutral Record: UNI 2-2, UVA 3-0. Conference Record: UNI 0-0, UVA 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Iowa Panthers will try climb over the .500 mark for the first time this season as they visit John Paul Jones Arena for a non- conference bout against the Virginia Cavaliers.
The Panthers improved to 5-5 last Saturday after they dispatched Shaka Smart's Virginia Commonwealth Rams, 77-68, at home. Although UNI is currently on a two-game winning streak, it lost to Ohio University, George Mason and Milwaukee in its three true road tests to this point. Coach Ben Jacobson's team is not overwhelming its opposition on the offensive end as it has averaged 72.7 points per game on 44.6 percent shooting from the field, but it has held its foes to 70.6 ppg on only 42.4 percent efficiency.
Virginia had been idle since its 75-72 loss at Green Bay on Dec. 7. The setback was the second in a row for the Cavaliers, who as a result have fallen to a 7-3 standing. Coach Tony Bennett's squad finished the 2012-13 campaign with a 20-2 record at home, including a perfect 9-0 record against ACC foes at John Paul Jones Arena. Virginia has already lost to VCU and Wisconsin in its own arena this season. The Cavaliers have managed to remain one of the top defensive teams in the nation. They are allowing only 55.1 ppg on 37.7 percent shooting from the floor while netting 66.7 ppg on the offensive end.
This will be the first meeting in history between the Panthers and Cavaliers.
UNI completely stifled VCU in its last outing. The Rams connected on only 36.9 percent of their field goal attempts in the contest and the Panthers used a 41-32 edge in the rebounding battle to help limit their opponent's number of possessions. UNI was unstoppable in the second period, knocking down 15-of-23 shots from the field and 14-of-19 at the free-throw line. Nate Buss came off the bench to post 16 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. Buss went 7-of-8 from the floor while fellow reserve Jeremy Morgan drained all three of his tries from beyond the arc en route to 13 points. Although Buss is contributing an average of 11.5 ppg, he is third on the UNI in the scoring column behind Deon Mitchell (13.5 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Seth Tuttle (12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Virginia is also a very tough team to battle on the boards as its positive 10.4 rebounding margin is leading the ACC. The Cavaliers finished with six more rebounds than the Phoenix in their last appearance, however Green Bay had no problem scoring points against their usually stingy defense. Virginia allowed its Horizon League opponent to make just over half of their shots from the floor including 7-of-14 from behind the 3-point line. Malcolm Brogdon paced the Cavaliers in the loss with 17 points and six rebounds while Joe Harris and Anthony Gill tallied 10 points each. Harris was expected to be a candidate to win the ACC Player of the Year prior to the start of the season after standing out with 16.3 ppg in 2012-13 as a junior. As a senior, Harris is scoring only 11.3 ppg, while attempting under eight field goals per outing for the first time in his career.
The Panthers are a much different team on the road and Virginia's homecourt advantage is one of the best in the nation. Although UNI can be dangerous when it uses a collective effort on the offensive end, it has yet to show it can do so on a consistent basis. The Cavaliers have had plenty of time to figure out how to turn things around and hold a clear upperhand as long as it doesn't take them too much time to shake off the rust.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia 71, Northern Iowa 62
12/21 11:12:24 ET